Diversity and Acting Roles Within the Film Industry

Acting roles within the film industry

by Abbey Miles
Actor | Film enthusiast | Writer

Over the past few years, the film industry has undergone some seismic changes for the better, and diversity within the industry has begun to improve, showing more representation within lead and supporting acting roles for all races, genders and sexualities. Hopefully, this will help to secure a future where every type of unique individual will be able to see someone they can relate to both on-screen, and behind it. The film industry has always been a pioneer of social change, with campaigns such as the 'Me Too' movement gathering steam, and bringing to light some of the most dangerous predators in the movie business, and holding them accountable for their crimes.

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The most famous example of this is, of course, Harvey Weinstein – producer of Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love, who has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for his numerable sex offences against countless women.

These are all necessary changes which make the film industry a safer, fairer and more inclusive space to be in, and which has allowed women and the BAME community to take strong, interesting lead acting roles in films and TV, as well as behind the camera, in the director’s seat.

While the industry is going in the right direction, it also seems as though – on numerous occasions – those within the film industry use the conversation about race, gender, and equality in general, to virtue signal, and to promote their company within the industry as a progressive and liberal one. The film industry is happy supporting artists who are women, or individuals in the BAME community, on screen for the audience to see – for visibility – in order to project a positive image of their company’s diversity, representation and inclusiveness.

By contrast, their behind-screen efforts are significantly lacking, and the hiring and promotion rates of women and BAME individuals behind the scenes are much lower. One of the more problematic ways in which members of the film industry are using these issues, is as publicity. Rather than creating new stories to celebrate women, or members of the BAME community, for who they are, the film and TV industry is continually producing thinly plotted remakes of much loved classics but are increasingly reinventing successful characters with the brush of diversity.

There are countless examples of this. For example, the 2016 remake of the Ghostbusters film cast four women as the Ghostbusters – some of the greatest female comedians of the time – and yet the movie was a total flop. The same diversity brush was swept across Oceans 13 and the latest Terminator movie.

Why? When a movie is remade – particularly when that movie has a strong, diligent fan base already – the people who go to see it have expectations of the kind of movie it is, the tone, as well as who the characters are. When a film fails to meet these expectations – and the characters within them are altered beyond recognition – the movie often isn’t well received.

In cases such as these, we are then forced to ask the question, why were these casting calls made? Since the producers could guess that the result would be divisive – and potentially unsatisfying for long-time lovers of the movie – why don’t they stick to the status quo? If it's not for the good of the franchise, or its loyal fan base, then who is the film for?

More than simply virtue signalling – to show that their company is progressive – movies use women and BAME individuals to create a buzz. As soon as a film company subverts the expectations of a character, for example by making a previously male character female, they know they will receive a huge amount of publicity – both good and bad. Though, in the grand scheme of things, as long as people are talking about the film, good or bad is irrelevant.

Re-casting male roles with women, such as in the case of the doctor in Doctor Who, or the all-female Ghostbusters – or casting a black Ariel in the live action remake in 'The Little Mermaid', who was previously one of the most famous (if not the most famous) fictional redheads – is not really for the sake of representation of these groups of people.

To the industry, we should say: let men play men, let women play women, and let diversity be represented naturally both on-screen and off-screen. On the other hand, the film industry itself shouldn't shoulder all the blame – the intense scrutiny of the public may have fanned fire to the flame, as more and more production companies – and individuals within the film industry – come under fire for poor representation. As such, they may feel forced to choose those from the acting auditions who check the most diversity boxes, rather than the person who best fits the role, resulting in positive discrimination.

Moreover, in order to ensure that individuals and companies within the film industry don't fall victim to 'cancel culture', where many have already been ‘cancelled’ for unpopular opinions or for behaving in an otherwise 'controversial' way, those within the film industry may choose to play it safe, for fear of offending people, or being interpreted as backward – which could result in their boycotting.

In the future, it's possible that what we see in film will be filtered, censored – and following patterns which appeal to those with the power to 'cancel'. This is the danger of political correctness in the film industry, if it continues to pander to a certain social and cultural mind-set, and is likely to cause more harm than good, as the use of the gender and race conversation is used to generate publicity, and greaten the divide between those who share this mind-set, and those who don't.

There is an enormous pool of talented actors from all walks of life, all races & genders and this should be celebrated, explored and expanded throughout all media from TV to films, theatre and beyond. Lets just put the most suitable characters into the most fitting roles whatever your colour or gender and watch cinema and TV flourish once more.

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